Bloomberg Business surveyed recruiters at hundreds of companies to ask them what skills they sought in candidates, and whether they saw those skills in the people applying for jobs. Bloomberg is using the responses to rank business schools, but I think there is a point worth looking at on a much broader scale: higher education has been slow to adapt to the new demands of work in the twenty-first century.
Strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, leadership and communication all fall into the category of uncommon skills in high demand from job recruiters. The good news is that this represents an opportunity for colleges and universities to meet a need of the companies looking to hire their graduates, and by doing so improve the value of the degrees they offer. As administrators of many schools worry about enrollment numbers, this should present a great incentive to make changes.
But of course making these changes is not as easy as simply adding a Strategic Thinking 101 course to the catalog. There are some profound changes universities have to make to the way they teach if they want to foster the kinds of abilities that will help their graduates succeed in the knowledge economy. I look at the data showing that creative problem-solving isn’t well represented in recent grads and I’m not surprised. Too many institutions are stuck in the habit of teaching to the test, preparing students for a life of memorizing facts that doesn’t jibe with the real world.
The common thread between the four skills listed by Bloomberg is that they’re all related to the ability to gather and synthesize information, and then disseminate or communicate it appropriately. The ACRL defines this as information literacy; and at Credo we also apply the terms critical thinking and research skills. We recently surveyed hundreds of faculty from around the US and found that a quarter worked for institutions that did not offer a course in information or research skills, (an additional 31 percent weren’t sure whether or not their institution offered such a course). This despite the fact that 97 percent of students and 95 percent of faculty said information skills instruction impacted the quality of students’ work.
It isn’t just that these four skills are in short supply, or that they’re in high demand with businesses today. I believe that these skills go beyond any trend or fad that could be captured in a survey. These skills define what it takes to be successful today, and the sooner we prioritize their cultivation, the better the results will be for students, colleges, and businesses alike.